UPDATE (03.22.2021): Post substantially updated for clarity. Because NYTIP is still a work in progress, I’m removing language referring to recommended plans, and instead listing the options I’m currently considering.
Welcome back to my ongoing series on the New York Transportation Improvement Plan (NYTIP)! In my last post, I discussed the Eastern Parkway trunk line served by the 2, 3, 4, and 5 lines in Brooklyn. In this post, I will discuss the 2, 3, 4, and 5 lines in Upper Manhattan and The Bronx, and explain why de-interlining is extremely challenging.
If you’ve read all the posts in this series so far, you’ve seen that the key to enhancing the NYC Subway (point one in my three-point plan) is eliminating merging conflicts – mostly through de-interlining. In some cases, de-interlining is trivial since it does not require capital investment; in other cases, it only works with capital investment.
With the IRT lines in The Bronx, it’s a bit of both – and all options have their share of difficulties. Let’s explore.
Note: Click any image to enlarge.
[Fig. 1] Snippet of the NYC Subway Map showing the subway lines in The Bronx.
The circled areas in the map above are the “trouble spots” of the Bronx IRT system – and the keys to determining the efficacy of any de-interlining option. Let’s take a closer look.
[Fig. 2] Track map of the 2, 3, 4, and 5 lines with emphasis on the South Bronx and Harlem. Source: vanshnookenraggen.
The first trouble spot is the at-grade junction north of 135th Street station on the 2 and 3 lines, which limits capacity on both. The second trouble spot is the 149th Street junction where the 2 and 5 trains meet; as the track map shows, 5 trains must negotiate a wicked S-curve between the 138th Street and 149th Street – Grand Concourse stations. The sharpness of the curve restricts the 5 train’s speed, which induces delays.
[Fig. 3] Snippet of vanshnookenraggen’s track map showing the East 180th Street station and points of conflict between 2 and 5 trains.
The last trouble spot is East 180th Street. During rush hours, 5 express trains from the Dyre Avenue branch must cross over the local tracks to reach the center express track at East 180th Street. The rush-hour 5 train split between Nereid Avenue and Dyre Avenue also contributes to delays and, for Dyre Avenue branch riders, infrequent rush hour service. While recent improvements allow some trains to use modified yard leads to avoid choke points, merging issues remain.
There are several possible ways to resolve these issues.
Option 1a: Full de-interlining using existing tracks
[Fig. 4] Overview of option 1a via Brand New Subway.
Option 1a fully de-interlines the Bronx IRT. Under Option 1a, the 3 replaces the 5 to Eastchester – Dyre Avenue and runs local in The Bronx. The 2 runs express in the peak direction from East 180th Street to 3rd Avenue – 149th Street during rush hours. As an optional enhancement, peak-direction 2 express service can run for an extended period on weekdays similar to the peak-direction 6 and 7 express services. The 5 runs via Jerome Avenue and terminates at Burnside Avenue using existing switches. Alternatively, given the Jerome Avenue el’s switch layout, the 5 can continue further north to Kingsbridge Road instead, providing badly-needed service increases to several busy stations:
[Fig. 5] Snippet of vanshnookenraggen’s track map showing potential service patterns for the 5 via Jerome Avenue.
One potential difficulty with this pattern, given that both 4 and 5 trains run frequently, is delays caused by trains crossing in front of each other. Due to switch locations, terminating 5 trains must discharge their passengers regardless of whether they terminate at Burnside Avenue or Kingsbridge Road. One way to mitigate this issue is building two new switches near Burnside Avenue:
[Fig. 6] Conceptual diagram of optional new switches at Burnside Avenue for operational flexibility.
With the 4 and 5 running together to Burnside Avenue (or Kingsbridge Road), an optional service enhancement is peak-direction 4 express service between Burnside Avenue and 125th Street. The MTA previously ran a pilot program where select 4 trains ran express from Bedford Park Blvd to 125th Street, with intermediate stops at Burnside Avenue and 149th Street – Grand Concourse. One issue with the pilot was less service at local stops – a problem that the 5 via Jerome Avenue resolves.
Another potential issue with Jerome Avenue express service is that, like the Concourse express, trains would skip the busiest station in The Bronx (161st Street – Yankee Stadium). A capital solution exists for this problem, however.
Potential capital investment: Convert the upper level of 161st Street – Yankee Stadium station to an express stop with island platforms.
[Fig. 7] Overview of the 161st Street upper level conversion.
As with the optional Concourse line platform conversion, if pursued, this investment could provide a major service and capacity increase to The Bronx’s busiest station.
While Option 1a has some benefits, it also has major issues. The first major issue is that this leaves the 6 train as the only direct route to Manhattan’s east side from anywhere in the South or East Bronx. Under Option 1a, 2/3 riders would have to transfer at 149th Street – Grand Concourse to the 4/5; the 149th Street – Grand Concourse station can’t handle large volumes of transferees without major capital investment. The second issue is Harlem. If the 2 and 3 both serve The Bronx, there is no longer any service to the 145th Street or Harlem – 148th Street stations on the current 3 line. To mitigate the latter issue…
Option 1b: Implement Option 1a with an infill station at 145th Street
[Fig. 8] Overview of option 1b with the new 145th Street station.
[Fig. 9] Option 1b track map. Note the eliminated conflict near 149th Street – Grand Concourse.
An area MTA neighborhood map suggests that 2 service diverges around 143rd Street and runs under Col. Charles Young Playground before crossing under the Harlem River to The Bronx. Option 1b contemplates a new, full-length infill station under this playground serving 145th Street, with entrances at 143rd Street/Malcolm X Blvd, 145th Street near the 145th Street Bridge, and possibly 145th Street/Malcolm X Blvd. 2 and 3 trains would run together to serve the new station and enter The Bronx. Owing to the Lenox Yard, the Harlem – 148th Street station would see some form of limited rush-hour 3 service; however the station would close at other times. This minimizes use of the at-grade junction north of 135th Street station, improving regularity on the 2 and 3 lines.
On Twitter, vanshnookenraggen proposed a Harlem shuttle between the 148th Street and 135th Street stations, obviating the need for an infill station or station closures:
This would be a modified version of Option 1a above.
While Options 1a/1b fully de-interline the Bronx IRT, are either of these the best option for Bronxites at present? Let’s consider another alternative.
Option 2: Partial de-interlining option – 2/5 swap
[Fig. 10] Overview of Option 2.
[Fig. 11] Option 2 track map showing eliminated conflicts between express and local trains.
Option 2 prescribes a simple swap of the 2 and 5 lines north of East 180th Street. The White Plains Road branch is about 4.5 miles long with 10 stations, while the Dyre Avenue branch is about 4 miles long with 5 stations. Under NYTIP, express service should serve the longer, higher-ridership branches; as such, Option 2 sends the 5 express to Wakefield – 241st Street and the 2 local to Eastchester – Dyre Avenue. When the 5 runs express south of East 180th Street, it no longer has to cross over the local tracks to reach the center track.
Under Option 2, there is no “split service” north of East 180th Street; all 2 trains serve the Dyre Avenue branch and all 5 trains serve the White Plains Road branch.
Option 3: Demand management option – retain existing pattern and end branched 5 service.
This option eliminates the rush-hour “split service” that led to infrequent service on the Dyre Avenue branch; all 2 trains serve the White Plains Road branch and all 5 train serve the Dyre Avenue branch.
As of 03.22.2021, I am leaning toward Option 3 in the near term. As with Queens Boulevard, full de-interlining is not possible without major capital investment. As such, I am leaning toward Option 3 for now.
In my next post, I’ll give a summary of the enhanced NYC Subway system under NYTIP, along with additional enhancements tying these improvements together. Until next time!